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Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

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Guide for Providing Effective Aid

These do's and don'ts about how and what to donate in the aftermath of a disaster have been excepted from the PAHO/WHO publication International Health Relief Assistance: A Guide for Effective Aid. Consult our publications catalog if you would like to download the complete publication.

  • Consult with the countries' health disaster coordinators for information about post-disaster health needs. Each country in Latin America and the Caribbean has a designated health disaster coordinator. After a disaster, this coordinator will conduct an assessment, in cooperation with PAHO/WHO and interested NGOs, to determine health needs. Don't start collecting relief items until you have this information.
  • Whenever possible, donate cash or credit directly to the national health authorities, to international agencies, or channel it through well-established private agencies. Most of the relief items needed can be purchased locally or in neighboring countries. Cash also can be used to restore the pre-disaster level of health care conditions and to replace national resources that have been diverted from essential programs and used for the emergency.
  • Assist countries during the preparedness, rehabilitation and reconstruction phases. Unfortunately, disasters are rarely newsworthy once the immediate emergency phase is over. Yet, after a disaster, an affected country will deplete much of its financial and material resources. Later, the affected country will need even more international aid for repairs and reconstruction.
  • Coordinate the efforts of independent assessment teams or fact-finding missions with those of the affected country and other agencies.


  • Used clothing, shoes, etc: in most cases, the local community donates more than enough of these items to meet the demand. It is more economical, convenient and sanitary to purchase items locally than to ship used items. Refer offers of this type of assistance to local charities or voluntary agencies.
  • Household foods: the same applies for food items. A disaster is not likely to cause a national food shortage in Latin America and the Caribbean, although the international media may highlight local distribution problems.
  • Household medicines or prescriptions: these items are medically and legally inappropriate. Pharmaceutical products take up needed space and divert the attention of medical personnel from other more pressing tasks to sort, classify, and label them.
  • Blood and blood derivatives: there is much less need for blood than the public commonly believes. More recently, local blood donors in the affected country will cover the victims' needs. This type of donation is unsuitable because it requires quality and safety controls, such as refrigeration or screening for detection of HIV.
  • Medical or paramedical personnel or teams: Local health services are able to handle emergency medical care to disaster victims. In fact, most countries have a relatively high physician-to-population ratio.
  • If international aid is needed, neighboring countries are in the best position to assist during the first 24 hours. Exceptions to this are highly skilled specialists who have been specifically requested by the Ministry of Health. Foreign medical or paramedical personnel who are unfamiliar with local language and conditions should be encouraged to remain at home.
  • Field hospitals, modular medical units: considering that this type of equipment is justified only when it meets medium-term needs, it should not be accepted unless it is donated. Equipment specifications, such as weight, volume, freight and installation costs should be provided to the Ministry of Health so that they can decide on its usefulness.


  • Used medical equipment: specifications should be provided. If the value of the equipment justifies it, an on-site inspection may be arranged by a technician in the donor country or an international agency such as PAHO/WHO or the Red Cross.
  • New equipment: when considering these donations, take into account the cost of transportation by air freight, and the continued availability of spare parts. Most manufacturers are willing to wait several days to allow countries to consult with the proper technical Ministry.
  • Tents: many countries stock a large quantity of tents that are manufactured locally. The funds that donors are willing to spend to purchase and airlift tents could be put to better use purchasing reconstruction materials locally.
  • Vaccines: most often they are neither needed nor approved by the Ministry of Health. Check the presentation, dosis, expiration date, and inform the Ministry of Health, or check with This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Department of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

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